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David J. Helfand
Columbia University

Welcome — to 2014 and, for about half of you, to Washington, DC, for the 223rd meeting of your Society. While final numbers won’t be known for a few days, it looks like we’ll have well over 3,000 attendees, making this one of the largest gatherings of astronomers in the history of the planet. Our vice-presidents have worked incredibly hard to squeeze in as much exciting science as possible, with a record number of plenary talks, town halls, workshops, and special sessions. Full-immersion astronomy will be the order of the week. 

Speaking of large meetings, we hope to break the astronomical attendance record in August 2015 in Hawaii when we play host to the International Astronomical Union’s 29th triennial General Assembly. The US has hosted the IAU GA only three time in 93 years, so it is unlikely to be a domestic conference again for decades. The formats of recent GAs have been much more science-intensive than in the past, and the program for 2015, which is taking shape as I write, promises a delectable smorgasbord covering virtually every area of astronomy. So if you are planning your meeting schedule over the next couple of years, be sure to consider 12 days in Hawaii in August 2015 to help celebrate the fundamentally international nature of our discipline.

Returning to more parochial concerns, a fleeting outbreak of rational bipartisanship occurred in Washington this past month concerning the national budget for the next two years. While this is to be welcomed, in that it is likely to eliminate the craziness of last October for the foreseeable future, it is clear that we must continue to advocate vigorously for federal investment in research if astronomy is to thrive. The American Physical Society is leading an effort to launch a new initiative called “Science Counts,” designed to appeal directly to voters in congressional districts around the country so that they consider the importance of support for federal research when electing their representatives. This effort is born out of the conviction that the scientific community’s traditional position of simply asserting that federally funded research is in the national interest is no longer effective and that radical new ideas are called for. Whether or not this new initiative will work is an empirical question, but with a number of significant donors apparently interested in supporting the effort, it seems worth a try.

In all of our efforts to persuade our fellow citizens and their elected representatives that support for scientific research is important, we must always be cognizant of the fact that a broad message is the most effective message, while a narrowly targeted message arguing for more of one discipline at the expense of other disciplines is damaging to all of science. In the last few months, we have repeatedly been told by John Grunsfeld at NASA, by Jim Ulvestad at NSF, by congressional staffers, and by our Society’s own experts in public policy — Joel Parriott, Kevin Marvel, and Josh Shiode — that shooting inward at each other, or even tangentially at other areas of science, is a losing proposition. And in the current climate, we simply cannot afford any losing propositions.

In this spirit, we are taking advantage of our presence in Washington to hold an event on Capitol Hill to make sure our representatives and their aides get to share in the excitement of all our science. Indeed, sharing our excitement is critical to our future. And the broad message we deliver is perhaps best exemplified by an exchange that took place 45 years ago between Rhode Island Senator John Pastore and Dr. Robert R. Wilson, the founding director of Fermilab. In his testimony before the Joint Congressional Committee on Atomic Energy, which was debating authorization for the construction of Fermilab, Senator Pastore (a supporter of the project) asked Dr. Wilson, “Is there anything connected...[with] this accelerator that in any way involves the security of the country?”

Dr. Wilson replied, “No, sir; I do not believe so.” But then, after a brief exchange to establish this concept firmly in the committee’s mind, Dr. Wilson added, “It has nothing to do directly with defending our country except to help make it worth defending.”

The political climate in Washington these days may be quite different from that in the 1960s, but I strongly believe that we must cleave to this fundamental truth. Certainly, there are spinoffs from our research that directly or indirectly benefit our society (and, indeed, Dr. Wilson went on to say as much about Fermilab and particle physics research in his testimony), but none of these is as important as the fact that we pursue our science because, as Dr. Wilson claimed, “It only has to do with the respect with which we regard one another, the dignity of men, our love of culture. It has to do with those things.”

We contribute in a significant way to what makes the country — and the world of science — worth defending. And that should be our primary message.

I just finished teaching a class of first-year university students about extrasolar planets. When these kids were born, we knew of no planets beyond the eight (then, misguidedly, nine, I suppose) in our own solar system. Now we know of thousands — and confidently surmise that there are tens of billions more in the Milky Way alone. Our rate of technological progress is impressive; the rate at which scientific understanding increases is astounding.

Yet it is the perspective that our progress brings to society that is our most profound contribution. Christiaan Huygens, the great Dutch polymath and rival of Isaac Newton, was even more eloquent than Dr. Wilson when he summarized the astounding astronomical progress of the 17th century with these words: “How vast those orbs must be, and how inconsiderable this Earth, the Theatre upon which all our mighty Designs, all our Navigations, and all our Wars are transacted, is when compared to them. A very fit consideration, and matter of Reflection, for those Kings and Princes who sacrifice the Lives of so many People, only to flatter their Ambition of being Masters of some pitiful corner of this small Spot” (from Cosmotheoros: Conjectures Concerning the Planetary Worlds, and Their inhabitants, 1698).

With best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous, and productive new year that will bring new understanding of — and, as importantly, new perspectives on — the cosmos, I remain,

Sincerely yours,


Alice K. B. Monet
U.S. Naval Obs. (retired)

The Future of Time
A Workshop at the 223rd AAS Meeting
Sunday, 5 January 2014, 1:00 pm – 5:00 pm
National Harbor 6, Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center

Time is a very broad subject. This discussion of its future implementation draws on experts from distant corners of the AAS community, including history and EPO, observatory operations, software and systems, and various fields of research.

The topic is a proposal being vigorously pursued within the International Telecommunication Union, an agency of the United Nations, that would redefine Coordinated Universal TIme (UTC, the basis of time on your alarm clock, wristwatch, computer, and smartphone) to no longer be tied to the rotation of the Earth.

We will discuss the historical context for this unprecedented proposal, as well as its most significant implications for the practice of astronomy. More details are available on The Future of Time web page (also see links to the preprints from two previous meetings in 2011 and 2013).

The Future of Time agenda is split into two two-hour sessions (see below). Your participation will be welcome for either or both sessions.

Session 1: The Future of Time I – Historical Context (1:00 pm)

  • Introduction
  • A (Brief) History of Time in Astronomy (K. Seidelmann, UVA)
  • Time Scales and Concepts (A. Rots, SAO)
  • Time and Navigation: The Untold Story of Getting from Here to There (A. Johnston, NASM)
  • Time and the Earth: Long-Term Trends (for F. R. Stephenson, Durham University)

Session 2: The Future of Time II – Operational Timekeeping Issue (3:00 pm)

  • The Name of Time: Terminology Requirements for UTC (Kara Warburton, Chair, ISO TC 37)
  • Performing a UTC Software Inventory (R. Seaman, NOAO)
  • Software and Astronomical System Engineering for Time (TBA)
  • Network Time and Infrastructure (H. Stenn, Network Time Foundation)
  • Discussion: Operational Implications for Observatories (A. Peck, ALMA)

Rob Seaman, NOAO
Ken Seidelmann, U. Virginia
Arnold Rots, SAO
Alison Peck, NRAO

Constance E. Walker
NOAO, International Dark-Sky Assoc. BOD, Astronomical Society of the Pacific BOD

Attendees at the 223rd AAS meeting in Washington, DC, this coming week are invited to attend two special events related to light pollution and observatory site protection:

Workshop — Dark Skies & Energy Kits for Classrooms & Outreach
Sunday, 5 January, 1 to 5 pm, Potomac Ballroom C
The National Optical Astronomy Observatory (NOAO) has helped develop educational activities about energy efficiency and light pollution. The activities help students identify wasteful/inefficient lighting and describe ways to reduce excess light, a problem not only for astronomy but also for plant, animal, and human health. As part of this program, NOAO developed a Dark Skies and Energy Education kit (DS&EE) containing a demonstration on the importance of shielding lights; different lights, sockets, and diffraction gratings to investigate the efficiency of lights; and a luxmeter, a Sky Quality Meter, and a camera to quantify and calculate the energy, cost, and carbon footprint in a lighting audit. The kit also contains materials for three other activities addressing how light pollution affects wildlife and helping prepare participants for the Globe at Night citizen-science campaign. In this workshop, participants will evaluate the DS&EE kit and activities, providing feedback that will help improve future versions. At the end of the workshop, a DS&EE kit will be raffled.

Splinter Meeting — Observatory Site Protection: Challenges & Solutions
Monday, 6 January, 6:30 to 8:00 pm, National Harbor 3
Three timely topics on light pollution will be featured in this meeting sponsored by NOAO; the AAS Committee on Light Pollution, Radio Frequency Interference (RFI), and Space Debris; IAU Commission 50, Observatory Site Protection; and the International Dark-Sky Association (IDA). Richard Green (Univ. of Arizona and President of IAU Commission 50) and Jeff Hall (Director, Lowell Observatory) will talk about recent successes and challenges with lighting ordinances and site protection in Arizona. Bob Parks (IDA Executive Director) will talk about the future of outdoor lighting. And Harvey Liszt (NRAO) will talk about how the radio-astronomy community is addressing the most significant challenges it is facing from RFI. These presentations will be followed by an open mic session where participants are invited to provide updates from their own communities, beginning with comments from Doug Arion (Carthage College) about a program on engaging the public through astronomy and nature education through the Appalachian Mtn. Club. Time permitting, Richard Green will moderate a discussion about how the AAS, IAU, and IDA can help communities establish lighting ordinances, what lessons have been learned, what the main challenges are, and what solutions have been recommended.

Please join us for one event, the other, or both!

Mark Dickinson

The Thirty Meter Telescope (TMT) Observatory has issued a call for membership in its International Science Development Teams (ISDTs). The ISDTs provide scientific input and feedback to the project, stimulate planning for future TMT science programs, and serve to build connections within and between the international TMT partnership.

ISDT membership is open to all PhD scientists, both from the current TMT partners and from the astronomical community at large. In particular, the NSF has established a cooperative agreement with the TMT to explore future NSF partnership in the observatory (see The ISDTs are one way in which members of the US community who are unaffiliated with the current US TMT partners (the University of California and Caltech) can become involved in TMT-related scientific activities and influence the future direction of the observatory.

Eight ISDTs focus on different scientific topics:

  • Fundamental physics and cosmology
  • Early universe, galaxy formation, and the intergalactic medium
  • Supermassive black holes
  • Milky Way and nearby galaxies
  • Formation of stars and planets
  • Exoplanets
  • Our solar system
  • Time-domain science

Membership applications are due on 17 January 2014.

You can find detailed instructions and more information about the ISDTs, and about the TMT in general, at the TMT ISDT website.

J. M. Wrobel
Program Director
National Science Foundation

The National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO) is pleased to announce the Semester 2014B Call for Proposals for the Very Large Array (VLA), Very Long Baseline Array (VLBA), and Green Bank Telescope (GBT). Semester 2014B runs from 1 August 2014 through 31 January 2015.

Complete technical and programmatic information for this NRAO Semester 2014B Call for Proposals will be available online beginning at 12:00 pm EST, Friday, 3 January 2014.

The proposal submission deadline for this call is 3 February 2014 at 17:00 (5:00 pm) EST (22:00 UTC).

Proposal preparation and submission for this call are via the NRAO Proposal Submission Tool (PST) available through NRAO Interactive Services. All proposal authors must be registered users of NRAO Interactive Services. The registration form requests contact information that will be used for notification about proposal disposition, telescope scheduling, etc. Proposers are encouraged to register early.

Proposers with questions regarding this call or the NRAO proposal process are encouraged to contact the observatory’s scientific staff via the NRAO Help Desk.

Richard Tresch Fienberg
Press Officer
American Astronomical Society (AAS)

Last month the United Nations (UN) General Assembly proclaimed 2015 as the International Year of Light and Light-based Technologies (IYL 2015). In proclaiming an International Year focusing on the topic of light science and its applications, the United Nations has recognized the importance of raising global awareness of how light-based technologies promote sustainable development and provide solutions to global challenges in energy, education, agriculture, and health. Indeed, the resolution was adopted as part of a more general agenda item on science and technology for development. This International Year will bring together many different stakeholders including UNESCO, scientific societies and unions, educational and research institutions, technology platforms, non-profit organizations, and private sector partners to promote and celebrate the significance of light and its applications during 2015.

IYL 2015 will promote improved public and political understanding of the central role of light in the modern world while also celebrating a number of significant anniversaries that take place in 2015, including the works on optics by Ibn Al-Haytham in 1015, the notion of light as a wave proposed by Fresnel in 1815, the electromagnetic theory of light propagation proposed by Maxwell in 1865, Einstein’s theory of the photoelectric effect in 1905 and his embedding of light in cosmology through general relativity in 1915, the discovery of the cosmic microwave background by Penzias and Wilson in 1965, and Charles Kao’s achievements concerning the transmission of light in fibers that same year.

John Dudley, president of the European Physical Society and chair of the IYL 2015 Steering Committee, explains: “An International Year of Light is a tremendous opportunity to ensure that policymakers are made aware of the problem-solving potential of light technology. Photonics provides cost-effective solutions to challenges in so many different areas: energy, sustainable development, climate change, health, communications, and agriculture. For example, innovative lighting solutions reduce energy consumption and environmental impact, while minimizing light pollution so that we can all appreciate the beauty of the universe in a dark sky. IYL 2015 is a unique opportunity to raise global awareness of advances in this field.”

The IYL 2015 resolution was submitted to the United Nations on 6 November 2013 by the nation of Mexico, with delegates from both Mexico and New Zealand speaking in support. As Ana María Cetto from the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) says: “The IYL will create a forum for scientists, engineers, artists, poets, and all others inspired by light to interact both with each other and with the public so as to learn more about the nature of light, its many applications, and its role in history and culture.” The resolution was adopted with co-sponsorship from 35 countries, reflecting the truly international and inclusive nature of the theme of an International Year of Light.

The Founding Scientific Sponsors of IYL2015 are the European Physical Society (EPS); SPIE, the International Society for Optics And Photonics; the Optical Society (OSA); the IEEE Photonics Society (IPS); the American Physical Society (APS); and the international network. The AAS, which was heavily involved in the International Year of Astronomy in 2009, expects to play a role in IYL 2015 too — especially since we'll be hosting the 29th General Assembly of the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in August 2015. National and regional committees and contact points currently being established will ensure that all nations of the world can participate. For more information, and to be placed on a mailing list for updates, email Or you can sign up on the EPS IYL 2015 page, which includes links to additional information.

Note: This article is adapted from a European Physical Society press release.